With just over 100 days to go before the November election, Maryland election officials said they are facing an “emergency” shortage of poll workers willing to work during the pandemic.
Maryland is short 13,970 election judges, according to David Garreis, president of the Maryland Association of Election Officials, which represents the state’s 24 local election boards. Garreis said it needs over 39,000 poll workers to staff all voting precincts and early voting sites adequately.
“We’re not going to be able to make up this election judge shortfall,” Garreis said.
During a meeting of the Maryland State Board of Elections, Garreis said many people who help at voting sites are older and in the high-risk category for COVID-19. The number of poll workers committed to working is down 36% from where it needs to be, and the number of vacancies continues to grow daily.
“The people that initially confirmed they could work are saying they cannot or will not do it because they won’t put their health at risk or the health of their families,” Garreis said.
He told the board to push Gov. Larry Hogan to consider consolidating voting precincts into a smaller number of voting centers around the state. Hogan would have to approve the measure.
Earlier this month, Hogan said while he encourages mail-in voting, he wants to see Marylanders with the option of voting in-person at their local precinct.
“We previously informed the State Board of Elections that we will actively encourage state employees to help supplement staffing needs,” said Mike Ricci, the governor’s spokesperson in a statement to WTOP.
Hogan has been critical of the state board’s handling of the primary election, which included mail-in ballot issues and long lines at polling sites. In a July 8 letter to Michael Cogan, the chair of the State Board of Elections, Hogan said political partisanship shouldn’t play a role in the discussion about what should be done in November.
“What’s happening for the local boards isn’t partisan, it’s a logistical issue stemming from a public health crisis,” Garreis said.
Garreis also is calling for canvassing to be allowed 30 days before Election Day, so elections officials can get a head start at counting mail-in ballots.
Prince George’s County Elections Administrator Alisha Alexander said a survey of poll workers found only 36% indicated they are willing to work during the pandemic.
“The bottom line is, if they are not willing to work, unfortunately some polling places may have to be consolidated,” Alexander said.
Alexander also said at least 21 polling locations, primarily churches, have indicated they are not willing to be a voting location this year.
Jim Shalleck, president of Montgomery County Board of Elections, said the county is still trying to determine its staffing levels for the election.
“We’re trying to make sure that we can fulfill the governor’s mandate and proceed with a robust election, both with absentee voting and in-person voting,” Shalleck said.
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